Category Archives: #reminiscences

#Reminiscences: snow day

Webster University closed early on Monday, at 11 a.m., for a snow day. Road conditions were ugly.

I didn’t leave campus until 3 p.m., since I went ahead and taught a lesson, met with the Dean, and took care of office work.

But I’m mindful of snow days past.

One year, when I was still living upstairs at the house on Wingate in Lee’s Summit (I moved downstairs to the basement in 9th grade) the ice was so bad that school was out for three days, and we were without power for at least overnight. That much I can remember. My sisters had bunk beds; I had a 3/4 bed. And we all bunked into my bed together to keep each other warm under plenty of blanketing.

1971. Lee’s Summit. The home on Wingate, in Briarcroft subdivision.

Funny that I don’t have much recollection of snow days as a kid. We would have taken the sled outdoors and played in the snow, of course. At some point there were snowmen, and one year I remember we made a snow fort of sorts.

Several years back, we had such a snow/ice/chill in Saint Louis that school was cancelled for two days. I knew about the call-off early enough that I decided to watch the entire Lord of the Rings movie trilogy on three consecutive nights, and I did.

Looking north toward the 40/64 interchange and the Barnes Hospital complex.

But the worst snow-days in memory occurred in January 2005. A perfect storm of ice hit a twenty-mile-wide swath of Indiana. We had been warned to expect that power would go out. And it did. For four days. I weathered the first night in my steadily-chilling condo. Even the next morning the hot water heater was still hot enough to take a quick shower. But the temperatures stayed cold for the whole time, and I found myself a room at the campus hotel at Ball State.

And as I write, I’m really puzzled that I don’t remember snow days from growing up. But how could I remember this snow from 1965?  I was three and a half years old—


Ah well.


Thirty years

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Thirty years.  I remember it so well.  My own life was in huge transition at that time — moving to a broader religious viewpoint, embracing gray rather than solely black/white, coming out, finding my path as an adult, carving out a place as a musician.

And then the Wall fell.  I knew even then that this was momentous, symbolic, and hugely important.

Yet we continue to build walls . . . .

#Reminiscences: 40th reunion

1978, my senior photo.

This coming weekend marks the 40th anniversary reunion of the Lee’s Summit High School class of 1979.

I am not able to attend.

My four years in high school were delightful in many, many ways.  From my perch 40 years later, I recall some very fine teaching from dedicated professionals who opened my eyes to history and science and literature in particular.  My music education was superior, both at school and in private piano lessons.

I excelled at music, and found a home of sorts as one of the geeks who did stats for the basketball teams.  And I lettered in both music and sports!

Coach Matuszak, Mrs. Simpkins, Mr. Berlin, Mr. Voss, Mr. Ballentyne, Mrs. Ford — these are names and faces I remember with fondness and affection. Several other faces flicker in my memory, but the names have now escaped me.

I was part of a group of music/drama types who generally got along well.  Many of us were church people too.  My tightest group were classmates with whom I had gone to elementary school, or who were church-mates at First Baptist Church.

I was picked on by some of the upper crust, but never bullied.  I despised a few of the athletes, and didn’t understand the kids who smoked or drank.  But I generally got along well with others.

I was pretty pure back then. Alcohol didn’t touch my lips until I was 23 years old.

My high school activities included choir, band, orchestra, drama, basketball statistician, and newspaper.

Lee’s Summit was a safe place to grow up.  The memories of my days of formation in that town, and at Lee’s Summit High School, are overwhelmingly positive.

Sadly, my schedule doesn’t allow me to be gone this weekend, with alumni weekend performances at Webster, a full day of teaching on Saturday, and Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra performing Mahler on Saturday evening.

I wish my classmates well, 40 years on!


#Reminiscences: Luck

As I was searching for something last week, I ran across this blog entry from 2016.

It’s worth reading again.  And again.

A teaser: 

I don’t deny that being in the right place at the right time is a good deal.  I’ve been the beneficiary of such luck.

Or is luck just another name for providence?

carter2016-1In my undergrad days, Dr. Gary Galeotti taught me that Providence is ‘the hand of God moving in the lives of His people for the purpose of redemption.’  Thirty-five years later, I can still quote that definition.

And that belief in Divine Providence (now more in a Jeffersonian sense, rather than my earnest late-teenage literalism) has been a guiding force in my journey.

For journey is the right term for life on this planet, and the road to or from success.

#Reminiscences: third grade

Hannibal. 1970. Mark Twain Elementary.  Third grade.  Mrs. Cary was the teacher.

And she was quite lovable, but seemed quite old to me at age 8.  My first- and second-grade teachers had been my mother’s age, it seems to me, around 30 or so. Mrs. Cary must have been in her 50s.  This was, of course, before the rule of 80 was adopted in 1977.

I liked Mrs. Cary.  I remember that I pulled a giant leaf from a tree on the playground, and pressed it between paper.  And wrote in crayon “Dedicated to Mrs. Cary.”

I know this because I discovered it, years later, still fairly intact.

Thank you, Norman Rockwell, for a reminder of how school NEVER was for me.

Believe it or not, I have more specific recollections of my second-grade classroom and the classrooms in Lee’s Summit than I do of third grade in Hannibal.

Perhaps this is because I was bored?

Unknownst to me at the time, but revealed to me much later by my parents, Mrs. Cary called them in for a conference to discuss my difficulties with reading.  Apparently she thought I was slow.  As in what was then called “Special Education” slow.

My mother assured her I was not.

I would add that I am not.

And my mother assured her that I was bored.  Seems I was reading at an eighth-grade level already.

There it is.  Just a recollection to share . . . !


#Reminiscences: Dear Mrs. Simpkins

Dear Mrs. Simpkins,

I stopped by your grave the other day to thank you again for all you gave me.  You probably heard me, but I want others to hear too, so I’ll write an open letter for all to read.

When I was a high school freshman and sophomore, I walked by your classroom every day on my way to the band room, where I had orchestra during the last half of fourth hour, and band during seventh hour. I didn’t know you, though, aside from sight.

Eleventh grade hit, and I had you as a teacher for half of the year.  The course was English Literature.  I was a bit of an Anglophile already, but you turned me into one for life.  I can’t thank you enough.

All these years later, I can still recite the opening lines of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in the muddy older English that you suggested we memorize for extra points.  I don’t remember many other specifics from that class, but I do remember my joy at being in your classroom every day.

Senior year hit, and you asked me to be your cadet teacher.  That meant that I got second hour in the English office (now moved upstairs) where I drank coffee and graded vocabulary quizzes and ran the ditto machine.

Third hour was spent in your classroom for Expository Writing, the college-bound senior composition class. You gave me the only F I’ve ever received — for the mechanics of my first paper that year.  You liked the content, but the comma faults and other grammatical issues caused me to fail that portion of the paper.  I learned quickly how to use commas, thanks to you, and how to write better.

You would signal something was important by saying “Prick up your ears.” I’ve picked that phrase up a few times in my own teaching career.

I can still spot a preposition at fifty paces.

My big research paper was on characterizations in Beethoven’s Fidelio.  I researched copiously, typed beautifully on my father’s manual Royal typewriter, footnoted heavily, wrote decently, and presented what you later called the most perfect, and most boring, term paper you ever read.

When I graduated high school, you gave me a leather bookmark from Stratford-upon-Avon, England.  It was a precious gift then, and a precious gift now.  I still have the bookmark, and I use it.

You requested that students write you on a date certain in October of their first year of college.  I did.  And over the years, I came back to visit you at school, annually spending an autumn day talking to your senior classes about college admissions and interviewing and the like.  Apparently, my college admissions work made you think I might be able to prep these students a little bit.  Those visits back to Lee’s Summit High School and your classroom were bright spots each year; I remember them with extreme fondness.

You see, I adored you.

You opened a world of literature and travel to me in English Lit, and you worked me over and helped me emerge a better scholar in Expository Writing. You taught me how to write.  (The only comparable influence on my writing style is Simon Carrington.)

You truly helped me become who I am today.

Several years later, when I came out to you, you didn’t blink an eye, but said “Well of course you are.  Now let’s get a cup of coffee.”  Your unconditional love was something I needed at that time in my life.

And then you fell ill.  Cancer.  And your son David, a trombone-playing classmate of mine, fell ill with cancer too.  You took a leave, and then quit teaching.  I called you a few times, as I recall, and we talked easily.  I was a teacher myself by then, and we had plenty to discuss.

David died first.  How awful this must have been for you, as it is for any parent to bury a child, but especially when that child is in his prime.

1995. I called you and spoke to you after my first trip to the UK. I was so excited to tell you about all the places I’d been. You rejoiced with me, even though you couldn’t speak for long.  Cancer was robbing you of breath and strength and that melodious voice.

I called again around Christmas that year.  Your husband told me he’d give you my greeting, but that you couldn’t talk on the phone any more.

And then, right around Thanksgiving 1996, you died. I was gobsmacked by your obituary as I read the paper at breakfast in my loft apartment.  I cried most of the morning.  My parents were home from Argentina at the time; I called Mom to tell her the news, not knowing that just a few days later would be the last time I’d ever see her as well.

In the midst of a busy Holiday Vespers week at the University of Kansas, I made a quick trip to Lee’s Summit to stop by the funeral home.  Your husband and daughter were there, and we spoke kindnesses.  That same week, the Lee’s Summit Journal published a letter to the editor that I wrote . . . about you.  Your husband, Arthur, in turn wrote a very kind note to me not long afterward.  I don’t have a copy of that letter to the editor, but I remember I said that Lee’s Summit had lost a bright light who had enlightened hundreds of minds and hearts. (I’m going to find, somehow, a copy of that letter.  This year, I’ll find it.)

I think of you often.  I’ll hear myself say something to a student, and realize that you are in my voice.  I read Wordsworth, and suddenly feel a ping of remembrance that you led me to this poet.  I geek out over something British, and you are there in my joy and my discovery and my enthusiasm.

Yours was a happy classroom.  You were a wise teacher.  And such a good one too.

I’m a better writer today because of you. I’m a better teacher today because of you. I’m a better person today because of you.

You influenced me deeply and profoundly.

How I wish I could tell you so, one more time.

Your student ever and always,


P.S. — I wrote about you a bit a few years ago.  Check out this and this.


De Soto

I had business on Saturday in Potosi, so I left early enough that I could drive through De Soto, Missouri and visit the cemetery where my ancestors are buried.

And marvel again at the old Texaco station by Mahn funeral home.

My paternal grandparents and great-grandparents are buried side by side.

Nearby is Pop Carter’s elder sister Elsie and her husband:

That Texaco station:

And the house where I fell in love with the My Fair Lady original cast album:

My grandparents built this ranch-style home in 1967.